Gardner-Webb kicks its way into Top 25

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Updated: 9/23/2013 1:12 pm

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The slogan of the Gardner-Webb football team this season is "Red Storm Rising."

The Runnin' Bulldogs reversed it this past Saturday night when they actually rose through a storm. On Monday, they rose into The Sports Network FCS Top 25 for the first time in 11 years at No. 25.

Gardner-Webb's 3-0 win in a rainstorm at Wofford was its second straight over a nationally ranked opponent and marked the highest-rated team to fall to the Runnin' Bulldogs. Wofford was ranked No. 10 at the time.

As Gardner-Webb returned to the rankings, North Dakota State, the two-time defending FCS champion, strengthened its hold on No. 1 by collecting 157 of the 158 first-place votes and 3,949 points. The Bison shut out Delaware State, 51-0, this past Saturday.

Eastern Washington, which earned the other first-place vote, remained at No. 2, while Towson moved up one spot to No. 3 in the national poll selected weekly by a panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries.

Gardner-Webb's upset at Wofford came on the heels of its 12-10 win at Richmond. Jordan Day provided all of the Runnin' Bulldogs' points in both wins with field goals.

The Big South Conference member, located in Boiling Springs, N.C., has a 3-1 record under first-year head coach Carroll McCray. The Runnin' Bulldogs feature running back Juanne Blount and wide receiver Kenny Cook on offense and a standout front seven on defense, including leading tackler and linebacker Tanner Burch. Nose tackle O.J. Mau was named The Sports Network FCS defensive player of the week on Monday for his standout performance against Wofford.

Gardner-Webb's appearance in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 is its first since the end of the 2002 season, when the Runnin' Bulldogs finished 9-1 in their third year on the FCS level.

"When I first looked at this schedule, it was intimidating," McCray said. "The first three teams (Furman, Marshall, Richmond) all have national championships in their trophy case. Wofford is one of a small group of programs that has been to the playoffs five times in the past six seasons. Obviously, we are thrilled to have gotten off to a great start. There are areas we must continue to try and correct. Those games are behind us now and we need to continue to improve ourselves and play the next team up. Our conference has gotten off to an impressive start as a group, and when those games begin in October, it will be another very tough stretch."

The FCS schedule on Saturday will feature three matchups among the nine highest-ranked teams. North Dakota State (3-0) will open its Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule at No. 6 South Dakota State (3-1). Eastern Washington (2-1) will visit No. 4 Sam Houston State (3-1) in a non-conference game which also is a rematch of Sam Houston's 45-42 win at EWU in the 2012 national semifinals. In addition, No. 5 Northern Iowa (3-0) will host No. 9 McNeese State (4-0) in non-conference action.

The rest of the Top 10 included No. 3 Towson (4-0), No. 7 Montana (3-0), No. 8 Eastern Illinois (3-1) and No. 10 New Hampshire (1-1).

Next up was No. 11 Montana State (2-2), which fell eight spots after losing to unranked Stephen F. Austin. The Bobcats were followed by No. 12 Coastal Carolina (4-0), No. 13 Central Arkansas (2-2), No. 14 James Madison (3-1), No. 15 Georgia Southern (2-1), No. 16 Fordham (4-0), No. 17 Wofford (2-2), No. 18 Cal Poly (1-2), No. 19 Villanova (1-2) and No. 20 Bethune-Cookman (3-1).

Rounding out the Top 25 were No. 21 Lehigh (3-0), No. 22 Richmond (2-2), No. 23 UT Martin (2-1), No. 24 Northern Arizona (2-1) and Gardner-Webb.

Stony Brook fell from the Top 25 after losing to Villanova.

In the Top 25 voting, a first-place vote is worth 25 points, a second-place vote 24 points, all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.

During the regular season, the Top 25 will be released every Monday afternoon, except for the final weekend, when it will be released Sunday morning, Nov. 17, prior to the selection of the FCS playoff field.

The final Top 25 will be released on the Monday after the FCS championship game Jan. 4 in Frisco, Texas.

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